The Coaching Hours Page 2

My shirt comes down over my head. “We don’t even know what she looks like. She could be a brown bagger.”

Brown bagger = someone you’d only fuck if their face was covered. Coyote ugly.

“Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t—there’s only one way to find out.”

I ball up my towel and shoot for the cart in the corner of the room, aiming high and lobbing it dead center. It falls in easily.

“You need to stop with this bullshit before they kick you off the team.”

“I’m not on the team,” he stipulates. “I’m just the team manager. No chicks ever want to screw me.”

That’s true; in the food chain of life, as the team manager, Gunderson is on the bottom rung after girls feast on the endless banquet of athletes and other student body elite. They’d rather fuck a hundred of us than one of him.

He’s a glorified water boy.

“Plus,” he continues, grasping at straws, “you’re way better-looking than I am.”

Also true.

“Give me a reason why I should keep listening to your bullshit. Why I would jeopardize my spot on the team to do something so idiotic?”

Even if it would feel really fucking good if I could get her to go out with and screw me—whoever she is.

“You can’t turn down a bet?”

Another good point: I never can turn down a bet.

I grab the hoodie out of my locker and slam the door shut. Spin the combination lock. “What stakes are we talking about?”

What the fuck am I saying?

Gunderson leans in, hand braced against the wall. “Let’s make it interesting.”

My laugh is hollow. “It would have to be real fucking interesting to get me to do it.”

“First one of us to bang this chick—”

“Oh, you want in now too?” What is that shit all about?

“I had a few minutes to give it some more thought while you were resisting the idea.”

Right, as if he has any thoughts going through that thick skull of his.

I laugh.

He frowns. “Don’t think I can do it?”

I laugh again, hefting my duffel bag. “I know you can’t.”

He trails behind me like a lost puppy dog. “Winner gets the big bedroom—the one Rhett just moved out of.”

I halt in my tracks. I’ve been dying to move into that fucking bedroom, but Gunderson and I both agreed when Rabideaux moved out that we could charge more rent for it since it’s the largest of the three, and we need money more than either of us need a bigger bedroom.

“The big room?”

Cherry on top? It has its own bathroom.

He nods. Affirmative. “The big one.”

Well shit.

The whole stupid fucking idea gives me pause.

Has me turning toward him, shit-eating grin spreading across my face, matching his.

Has me holding out my hand.

Gunderson holds out his.

I want that bedroom.




My parents couldn’t have chosen a more feminine name for me, but here’s the thing, they didn’t choose it because it was pretty or ladylike.


They chose it because of wrestling.

Everything was always about wrestling.

Before I was born, the masculine part of my father wished for a son, as men often do, someone to carry on the family name.

The Donnelly family tradition: wrestling.

As far back as I can remember, the sport flows in the Donnelly family blood. It’s my father’s livelihood.

My Irish grandfather wrestled.

My father wrestled.

Instead of a son, he ended up with me, an Anabelle instead of an Anthony. Ana instead of Abe.

A little girl scared of her own shadow who, instead of taking an interest in her father’s hobbies, clung to his leg. A little girl who carried around dolls and cried for her mother on the rare occasions he took pity on her and tried to teach her a few self-defense moves.

Back in college, when Dad was a novice wrestler at a junior college in Mississippi, he had a best friend on the team named Lucien Belletonio. Belle, they called him, though he was the very antithesis of such a feminine nickname—dark and broody and destined to be something big.

A champion.

My father’s best friend.

The year before I was born, just five months after my parents met, Belle and my father were tapped for greater things.


Life was good and only getting better—Belle a rising star on and off the mats, my father with a new wife and a baby on the way—but then fate got in the way, along with five tons of steel, ending Belle’s life and taking my father’s best friend along with it.



Feminine and smart and strong.

My father never wanted to forget Lucien Belletonio, and now he never will, because he has me.

Mom didn’t exactly make it easy to see or visit him after they got divorced, always citing one ridiculous reason or another. Your father is too busy with his career to have you stay with him. It’s wrestling season. It’s almost wresting season. He cares more about those boys than he cares about you.

I used to believe her.

Until I grew up and realized what she really meant was he cared more about those boys than he ever cared about her.

Me? I never felt abandoned by my dad, never felt left behind.

I grew older and wiser, started seeing Dad on television, on ESPN. Knew he was an important man with an important job, and I respected that.

It was my mother who didn’t.

As a young woman with a small child, she wasn’t willing to make the sacrifices many coaches’ wives have to make, moving in the fall when coaching staff changes. Pay cuts. Pay increases. Promotions followed by demotions. Moving across the country, going where the jobs are.

The thought makes me cringe.

My feet move at a brisk pace on the treadmill, thoughts of my parents’ divorce propelling me forward, the machine I’m on at a steep incline. Pushing me to my limits. Making me sweat. Making my legs climb and climb and run faster, pounding the rubber in time to the music, my entire workout a metaphor for my life.

It’s time to move, Anabelle. It’s time to move. My feet tap out the rhythm of the words.

It’s time for a change. My legs burn out the chant.

It’s time to—

“Hey, you almost done with this machine?” The question is followed by a tap on my upper arm, and I glance over, curious about the person with the gall to interrupt my workout.

I don’t bother pulling out my earbuds as I shake my head, ponytail swaying. “Fifteen more minutes.” My eyes assess the room, the empty row of treadmills. “You can use one of those machines.”

I try to be polite as possible, but he’s just standing there, watching me. His lips move, but with my ears plugged, I can barely make out what he’s saying.

They continue moving.

I yank out an ear bud, holding it near my head. “What?”

“This is my lucky treadmill.” He gives me a wide grin I’m sure he thinks will have me hopping off in a snap.

It doesn’t. “Your lucky treadmill? You don’t say.”

I mean seriously, who’s heard of such a thing? So dumb.

“Yup. Lucky number seven.”

I do a quick scan, counting the machines from right to left. He’s correct; I am on the seventh treadmill.

“Okay, well, give me another thirteen minutes, and it’s all yours.”

His arms cross. “I can wait.”

“Can you, um, wait over there?”

His closeness is a tad invasive, unnecessary, and weirding me out.

Determined to ignore him, I pop the music back in my ears, cranking the volume to drown him out. His mouth moves again.

I point to my ears. “Music is too loud, I can’t hear you.”

His mouth curves into a smirk, a knowing little smile—and if I didn’t know any better, I’d think his lips were saying, “Thank God you don’t look anything like your dad.”

That can’t be what he said, can it? This guy doesn’t even know me.

Doesn’t know my dad is Coach Donnelly, the winningest coach in college wrestling history. Doesn’t know I’m here to live with him and my stepmom until I can get my own place off campus, as soon as freaking possible because Dad’s hovering is about to drive me nuts.

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